Declaration of Localized Emergency issued for North Casey Key Road so county can address severe erosion

County Administrator says damage from Hurricane Barry put road at ‘imminent risk of collapse’

Photos taken in 2013 show the step revetment on North Casey Key Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With severe erosion threatening a step revetment near the 700 block of North Casey Key Road,Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis authorized a Declaration of a Localized Emergency Event so staff could stabilize the road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In a July 19 email, Lewis notified the county commissioners of his action, attaching a copy of the declaration and a memo from county Public Works Department Director Spencer Anderson.

Lewis referenced “progressive storm events, including effects from Hurricane Barry,” as the reason for the declaration while the commission was on its annual summer break.

“Within the past two weeks, staff has noticed a subsidence in the same roadway area [that staff stabilized last year],” Lewis explained. “The storms and localized erosion have placed North Casey Key Road, a public evacuation route, in imminent risk of collapse, which creates the threat of significant public and private financial loss and poses an immediate and present danger to the health and safety of the citizens of Sarasota County, necessitating the exercise of all reasonable protective and remedial measures.”

Hurricane Barry, which formed up in the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall on the Louisiana coast in early July as a Category 1 storm.

This graphic shows a forecast for Hurricane Barry on July 12. Image courtesy National Hurricane Center

The memo from Anderson, also dated July 19, explained that the step revetment system “was constructed in 1998 to prevent tidal wave action from undermining and collapsing the public roadway. Over the past several years,” he continued, “significant voids have been found underneath this stretch of roadway, particularly in the section in front of 712 North Casey Key Road.”

A revetment is a sloping structure placed on a bank to absorb wave energy in an effort to reduce erosion.

‘Trap bags’ have been installed at the mid-key location to stabilize the road and water line. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During a December 2018 staff presentation about the problems on North Casey Key Road, Assistant County Engineer Larry Mau explained that in 2017, members of the public began notifying county staff about concerns that the road was settling and that dips had appeared.

In his July 19 memo, Anderson reiterated some of Mau’s remarks from that December discussion. Anderson wrote that in December 2018, “crews were dispatched to fill a very large void beneath this roadway with approximately 100 cubic yards of flowable fill, to seal and prevent this roadway from failure.”

Mau had talked of the use of low-grade concrete, likening the project to filling a room measuring 10 feet by 17 feet.

Lewis pointed out in his July 19 email that the anticipated expense of the latest repairs was $65,000, which would “be funded out of the Public Works operating budget.”

On July 1, Lewis continued, the Public Works Department staff “submitted a permit application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to perform reconstructive repairs to the step revetment,” in general accord with the conditions of the permit FDEP granted the county last year. On July 18, Lewis wrote, FDEP notified the county that it “would not be able to issue a permit for an additional 60 to 90 days. Authorization of the proposed Declaration will allow for the County to perform required work without prior FDEP permit authorization,” Lewis pointed out. “After the work is complete, a permit will be required to keep the repairs in-place beyond 90 days.”

His declaration, he noted, would allow the work to start that day.

The declaration itself was allowed under Section 161.085(3) of the Florida Statutes, the declaration said.

A photo shows waves over-washing the northern portion of Casey Key Road during a winter storm. Image courtesy Sarasota County

If any of the commissioners had questions, Lewis asked that they call him.

The only commissioner who responded by email, as shown in the public email folder, was Chair Charles Hines. On July 19, not even 10 minutes after Lewis sent his email, Hines wrote, “Thanks.”

The commissioners are due back in the office on Aug. 19. Their first meeting since their summer recess is set for Aug. 21; that has been planned as their final workshop before they conduct the two required public hearings in September on the proposed 2020 fiscal year budget.

Persistent road worries

On June 19, during a board budget workshop, Anderson reprised staff worries about the situation on North Casey Key Road. The area of concern extends from just about midpoint of Casey Key to the northern end of the island, he said.

Along with the road itself, the erosion has threatened a county water line, staff pointed out.

In December 2018, during his presentation to the board, Assistant County Engineer Mau said that sandbags FDEP had allowed staff to use to help stabilize the road were expected to have a life between three and five years. However, he cautioned, “[They] break down due to the sun, surf.”

Responding to a question from Hines, Mau said he felt the road and water line would be safe as long as the sandbags stayed in place. However, Mau added that in the event of a hurricane, “All bets are off.”

These are the primary taxing options staff proposed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Anderson proposed in December 2018 and in June that the commission approve an annual assessment of property owners in the area where the county needs to make the long-term improvements.

However, when Commissioner Nancy Detert made a motion for the affected property owners to pay 0.6022 mills per year for 10 years to cover 50% of the estimated $7.6 million in road repairs, only Commissioner Alan Maio supported the plan.

Hines and Commissioners Michael Moran and Christian Ziegler called on staff to undertake more outreach to the residents first. They cited their discomfort with imposing any assessment without ensuring the property owners were well aware of that prospect.

Commissioner Ziegler noted that a landowner’s potential payment of $1,200 per year for the MSTU is “a good chunk of change … I just want to make sure people are aware of it … before we slap that on their [tax bills].”

As he had explained last year, Anderson pointed out again on June 19 that staff had discussed the possible revival of a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) with Casey Key homeowners during a November 2018 meeting organized by the Casey Key Association.

Still, the majority of the commissioners in June said they believed the extra step of sending formal letters or emails to the affected property owners would be appropriate before they took action on the MSTU.